Australian teacher held on sex charges was banned from Hong Kong campus

Arrested Australian was barred from Hong Kong academy campus after allegations of 'inappropriate' online chats with 13-year-old

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 July, 2013, 5:35am

An Australian teacher facing child sex charges in the Philippines was barred from a Hong Kong school in 2010 over allegations of inappropriate behaviour toward former students, the Sunday Morning Post has learned.

Months after Hilton Munro left the Victoria Shanghai Academy in Aberdeen in 2008, the school began a programme to teach students about inappropriate adult behaviour, and in 2010 he was banned from the campus.

According to a former colleague of Munro's at the Aberdeen school - who declined to be named - the programme and the ban were prompted by allegations that Munro had engaged in an inappropriate online conversation with a 13-year-old student at the school after he left.

Since July 12, the 45-year-old has been in custody in the Philippine holiday resort of Cebu accused of sexually abusing four boys, aged nine to 12.

When contacted by telephone Munro hung up. He also failed to answer written questions from the Post passed to him via Philippine police. A Hong Kong address he gave to the Philippines authorities was bogus.

Several attempts to contact the current head of the Victoria Shanghai Academy, Dr Maggie Koong, were ignored. Last night, through its lawyers, the school confirmed Munro taught there and left in 2008, but said it would not comment to the media on the conduct or behaviour of teachers past or present.

The latest revelations have raised fresh concerns over the efficacy of the system for checking teachers' backgrounds.

A former principal of the Aberdeen school's primary section, Diane Fisk, confirmed that concerns over Munro's behaviour emerged after he left the school. "I was shocked and disappointed to hear about his arrest," said Fisk, who worked with Munro while he taught at the school between 2005 and 2008. "However, there had been suggestions of inappropriate behaviour after he left the school, so I kind of understood."

In 2004, prior to joining the Aberdeen school, Munro was cleared of allegations he sexually abused a 14-year-old boy in an Australian boarding school. The case was brought to the school's attention in 2006, Fisk said.

But he was allowed to continue working at the school because he was able to get the necessary clearance papers from the Australian authorities, she said.

He worked in the school's primary section, teaching 11- and 12-year-olds, the Post understands.

In 2008, Munro left for another teaching job in Hong Kong. But the school he intended moving to withdrew its job offer after other allegations were raised against him, the Post learned.

He then had short stints teaching in Oman and Portugal, before joining the Zhuhai International School in Guangdong province, where he was based before his arrest in the Philippines.

Several of Munro's former colleagues reacted with surprise to the news of his arrest.

"Mr Munro, in my experience, was a very good teacher, very professional and always extremely well prepared for his classes," said Ian Morrison, a teacher at the Aberdeen school.

"I was shocked by the news [of his arrest] as there was never any indication he would be involved in such behaviour."

Fisk was adamant that the school upheld rigorous hiring practices, saying that prospective teachers had to provide references and obtain police clearance. According to Fisk, Munro was properly vetted.

Several parents of students at the Aberdeen school, as well as current staff members, spoke highly of the school, with a number of them praising its facilities and academic results.

Fisk called on parents and victims to report any incidences of abuse. "It's very difficult to get people to come forward," she said. "People don't want to say anything. They feel that if the problem moves away, then it's OK now; it's gone.

"It is not until these boys become men and have families of their own that they have the confidence to come forward, and in that space of time, so many people suffer," she added.

Two years ago, the police introduced a mechanism to allow checks on sexual convictions in an attempt to "help reduce the risk of sexual abuse to children".

Under the scheme, schools can verify whether prospective recruits have any convictions for sexual offences.

The scheme was adopted to "prevent previous sexual offenders from obtaining the trust of employers by deliberately withholding their past sexual conviction records and molesting children again", the police said.

However, the scheme is voluntary and job candidates can decline to be checked. Private tutors are also excluded.

As of May, the office responsible for the scheme had processed 49,620 applications, police figures show; in five cases, sexual conviction records were found. According to these figures, the office has received 61,000 phone calls inquiring about conviction records since the scheme was launched.

In 2010, the Education Bureau announced guidelines "specifying that schools should strengthen their vetting procedures" and suggesting "schools should require applicants to declare their conviction records". It declined to comment on Munro and said it could not disclose the number of reported sexual abuse cases.